Japanese blogger challenges photo key to new Earhart theory

AP, Staff Report

A Japanese military history buff has apparently undermined a new theory that Amelia Earhart survived a crash-landing in the Pacific Ocean during her historic attempted round-the-world flight in 1937.

The history blogger has posted the same photograph that formed the backbone of a History channel documentary that aired on Sunday and argued Earhart was alive in July 1937 — but the book the photo appeared in was apparently published two years before the famed aviator disappeared.

The undated black-and-white photo is of a group of people standing on a dock on Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands. One of the people seems to be a slim woman with her back to the camera.

The documentary argued that it proved Earhart, along with her navigator, Fred Noonan, landed in 1937 in the Japanese-held Marshall Islands, where they were picked up by the Japanese military and held prisoner.

The History channel said Tuesday its investigators are “exploring the latest developments about Amelia Earhart and we will be transparent in our findings.”

In the documentary, the photo is subjected to facial-recognition and other forensic testing, such as torso measurements. Experts on the show claim the subjects are likely Earhart and Noonan. A retired federal agent said he discovered the image in 2012 in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

“According to the original caption in Japanese, the photo was taken at the port of Jabor town in Jaluit Atoll,” said the blogger, Kota Yamano, who found the image digitized at the National Diet Library.

Yamano, who goes by “Yamaneko Danshaku” (“Wildcat Baron”) on his blog, said he began to research the photo after hearing about the documentary through social media.

Yamano declined to disclose his occupation.

Yamano claims the photograph was first published in Palau — while it was under Japanese rule — in 1935 on page 44 of a book of photographs edited by Motoaki Nishino called “Umi no Seimeisen: Waga Nanyou no Sugata,” which can be translated as “A Lifeline in the Sea: The Aspects of my Southern Seas.”

Nishino was based in Palau and the publisher was Futabaya Gofukuten, also in Palau, according to the blog.

“So the photograph was taken at least two years before” Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937 and the person in the photo “was not her,” Yamano wrote on the blog.

The disappearance of Earhart and Noonan on July 2, 1937, in the Western Pacific Ocean has been the subject of continuing searches, research and debate.

A long-standing theory is that the famed pilot ran out of gas and crashed into deep ocean waters northwest of Howland Island, a tiny speck in the South Pacific that she and Noonan missed.